Friday, December 30, 2011

Naiya at Christmas

For those of you new to the blog, I have a dog named Naiya. She's pretty awesome. This past Christmas, she got a ball that lights up and plays sounds on impact. She also gets a kick out of unwrapping presents. I thought it would be fun to share this quick video of the whole deal. I promise more posts in the coming weeks than I've eked out recently, but hopefully you find this entertaining:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Grey Hairs

I am 26 years old and I have a lot of grey hairs for someone my age. I tease my wife of ~2.6 years that they come from marriage, as I didn't have any until well into our first year. However, I think it is more likely that they have resulted from the excessive pace at which we've had to live life over the past couple years. Working, going back to school, and managing a new marriage (let alone taking the time for family and friend relationships / issues) is no cakewalk.

We discontinued the practice of keeping track of my "grey count" (and, thankfully, that of pulling out said greys) a year or so ago. I think the last count was somewhere north of a hundred, but I'm pretty sure I called it before we found all of them. I'm also pretty sure the number has more than quadrupled since then. While you might expect me to be dismayed by this, I have actually been looking on the bright side; by the time I finish medical school and reach my residency, I will look a lot older and probably won't have to worry about patients looking at me and wondering if I'm mature or knowledgeable enough to be their doctor. I think it will probably make it easier to get the trust and respect that I will (hopefully) merit after working so hard to reach that position.

So. I am going grey, and I am ok with it. Here's hoping it makes me look more refined and mature than elderly or feeble...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Curiosity Cured the Cat

Curiosity seems to be a defining characteristic of many people that seek out a career as a physician. Obviously, I'm basing this observation on what I've seen in myself, my fellow pre-med students, and other doctors and researchers, but I think it's an accurate statement. Most of us are simply curious by nature, and I think it's that curiosity that leads us to study (well, aside from the exams and grades and such), investigate, research, and learn. Ultimately, it's this curiosity (seasoned with a healthy dash of dedication) that allows us to care for, diagnose, and cure other people.

In that spirit, I have begun a list of questions to which I hope to have answers by the time I'm done with medical school. Whether I come by those answers by learning on my own out of textbooks, finding out in lectures, directly asking a professor, or just by talking with fellow med students, I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about the normal and abnormal functions in the human body. This list isn't complete yet; as with most things, as my medical knowledge grows over the next few years, the number of questions I have will probably grow for a while as well. If you know an answer to one of my below questions, feel free to post it in a comment. However, before you do, please observe the following qualifying paragraph, bolded for emphasis:

I reserve the right to doubt you if your "knowledge" seems suspect or incomplete. For example, maybe you thought you heard somewhere once, perhaps from your doctor (or could it have been grandma?), that the reason your eyelids twitch sometimes is because you haven't gotten enough sleep. That's an incomplete explanation for muscular twitches of the eye. It doesn't explain what is causing the twitch. Is it a nutrient imbalance in the myocytes resulting from a lack of replenishment during sleep that causes the muscles to twitch because you didn't get enough sleep? Or is it neurological in nature, originating from a fatigued brain that is no longer able to correctly monitor eye muscle function? Maybe a combination? Obviously, these are just made-up possible explanations, but factual, accurate versions of those are what I'm looking for when I say I want to find out the answers to my questions. Aside from the completeness and detail that I'm looking for, I want reliability. Simply having "read it somewhere once" isn't good enough for me. I need references, or at least, "We learned that in my anatomy class last spring."

Now that we've got that out of the way, here are the beginnings to my list of Curious Questions:

1. Why does your skin itch sometimes, and what makes it stop itching once you've scratched it?

2. Why do your eyes water when you yawn? Why do they water when you pee - or is this just me?

3. Is there a connection between sadness and pain that makes people lacrimate from both, or are these two completely separate sensations that just happen to result in the same physiological response?

4. Why do children cry more easily from pain than adults do? Is it just an increase in pain tolerance and self control, or does something change neurologically?

5. Why does drinking milk when you have a cold or sinus infection make you seem to produce more phlegm? Is it really happening, or is there no real correlation between the two?

6. Why do muscles sometimes begin to twitch when you've gone without sleep? Why do eyelids seem to do this more frequently than other muscles?

7. Why do peoples' eyes dilate when they're on certain drugs?

8. Why does hair turn gray or silver when you get older, and why does stress accelerate this part of the aging process? What makes some people's hair turn gray, while others' might go right to white / silver?

9. Why does one person yawning initiate a yawn in another person?

10. What is the cellular-biological explanation for why older people recover more quickly from sickness and injury faster than younger people?

11. Does a cross-eyed individual perceive two distinctively skewed images, given that they eyes often point in different directions? Or does their brain compensate by merging the image? Do they have blind spots in their vision, or perhaps just separate frames for each field of view?

12. Why do your limbs prickle as they "wake back up" after going without oxygen for a time? What is actually happening to the nerve cells? Are they flicking on and off, "restarting" in some way, or is it a perception based in the brain as it begins to receive signals once again where it had grown used to receiving none during the small period of time during which the limb had been "asleep?"

What about you? Do you have any questions that would be good for me to add to my list? Is there anything about which you wonder but have never really learned an explanation? Feel free to post below!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

UW SMPH Interview Recap

Note: The new background photo is of some small falls we encountered while backpacking the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula this past August.

Photo from photos.news.wisc.edu.
Back from my four-state road trip and I must say that, though I don't feel any strong positive emotion for Chicago traffice (quite the opposite, actually), I loved my experience at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Ever heard of the "Wisconsin Nice" phenomenon? Well, I hadn't until this past trip, but I have now. Everyone throughout the entire interview day was great - easy to talk to and just plain fun. The comment was made during the day that if you drop something, three strangers will probably bonk their heads together when reaching down to pick it up for you. Wisconsin people are just that nice.

After the opening presentations and talks by a variety of faculty members, the interviewees were split up into two groups - one that went on a tour of the Health Sciences Learning Center, another that began the faculty interview. I had my interview first, and it went great. There were not standardized questions that the interviewers were required to ask. The faculty interviewers were also only supplied with the basics of your application, meaning that they had my experience descriptions, my personal statement, and my secondary application information / essays, but did not have access to my GPA, MCAT scores, etc. My interviewer was a blast to talk with, and we hit a multitude of discussion topics ranging from using video games to research learning disabilities and illiteracy in adults to how practicing physicians have to use effective teaching skills when dealing with patients. We had so much fun we actually lost track of time; the interview only ended when another faculty member knocked on the door to let us know that her next interviewee had been waiting for twenty minutes for her interview to begin. Whoops. My 30-minute interview had accidentally stretched for 50 minutes, and probably would have gone on for another 30 if he hadn't knocked. The good news is that I know my interview went well!

I then went on the tour and was blown away by the facilities. They've got a lot of great buildings and resources for the students. One interesting factoid that my student guide mentioned was that each entering class of 175 students is divided into Houses like in Hogwarts from Harry Potter. There are five separate Houses, each with their own traditional name (my guide's was called Bamforth) and common room, and practice classroom. That's right - each House has it's own designated areas secured by codes that only they know. It's a pretty cool idea, and I imagine that it immediately fosters a sense of belonging that might not come along as quickly under other circumstances. This is probably intensified by the fact that there is also a House Cup that is won in the yearly competition between the various houses. My guide didn't elaborate on what was involved in the competition, but it sounded like a fun tradition.

After the tour we had lunch, then it was on to the student group interview. I was in a group with two other interviewees and two student interviewers - one an M1 (first year med student) and the other an M2 (second year med student). They didn't have any information about any of the interviewees other than our names. After the opening generalities ("What were your majors, where are you from," etc. etc.) we just chatted about what it's like to be in medical school, what our fears are, what fears the current students had and how they played out, what the cooperation is like between current students, housing availability, the local culture and lifestyle of living in Madison, WI, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was a really nice conversation, and I felt like my group clicked pretty well with the student interviewers. They said that they had planned a whole list of questions to help facilitate the conversation and had only needed to use one the entire time.

In the end, the interview day was a success. We were told that normally, the wait for a response from the interview committee is approximately 6 weeks, as the review conducted on each student is very extensive. Apparently, each applicant is evaluated by a subcommittee. After a subcommittee reviews a candidate, each subcommittee member gives the student a rating. The candidate is then presented to the admissions committee by the committee member who gave the student the highest rating. All of the student's information is then provided to each adcom member while also being displayed on a large projection screen. Apparently they go over every minute detail, starting with "So-And-So was born on July 3rd in City, State. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Name and has two brothers, ages 13 and 29." They go on to discuss every aspect of the application. Needless to say, it must take a long time. We were also told that since it's the holiday season, we might not hear back for two months from now.

The decisions are mailed out via physical paper letters. They don't give out phone calls, and they won't be sending emails. The decision will be one of three, and they word the letters so that it will be fairly easy to tell which one you've got right off the bat - though they said you won't be able to tell based on how the envelope looks. The letters will begin with something along the lines of, "We are happy to inform you..." "We regret to inform you..." or "You have been waitlisted..." How much I write in my post two months from now will probably correlate directly with which of the aforementioned phrases begins my particular letter... I'd like to have one of those stereotypical "awesome" moments where you tear the letter open and are met with a happy surprise. Up until now, all of my paper letter moments have been rather disappointing, to say the least.

All told, it was a really fun experience, and I loved getting to know and experience a new school. It would be an honor to be accepted at and attend such a fine school as UW SMPH. As for now - back to the waiting game!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whirlwind & UWSMPH Interview

This week has been a whirlwind of activity. I worked last Saturday morning, finishing out an 80+ hour work week; we essentially had a big... issue... over the last couple weeks at the company where I work that resulted in everyone from every department working 12+ hour days... Luckily, things calmed down a bit for this week.

Unfortunately, working that much on 2nd and 3rd shifts while going to school on 1st shift tends to leave one a bit... drained. Apparently my immune system took the bulk of the damage, leaving me with a nasty chest cold all week. Originally I had a Biochem exam scheduled for Monday morning and an Analytical Chem exam for Tuesday morning. I was not prepared, largely due to working / finishing assignments until 3-4am all last week. My professors have been great, the major result of their incredible flexibility being that I got to take my Biochem exam on Tuesday (I think it went great!), and I don't have to take my Analyt exam until this coming Monday morning!

That leaves me free to focus on my interview at the Wisconsin State University School of Medicine and Public Health tomorrow. That's right - today I'm heading off on a six-hour adventure to Madison. Got the car all prepped yesterday morning, I took a half-day at work today, and a full vacation day tomorrow. I'm really excited to learn about a new school! I've been looking forward to this for a while; even though many people seem to really not like going to interviews, I actually really enjoy the experience. It's fun to talk to people who are where I want to be. I like hearing them talk about the parts of being where they are that get them excited. I think I'll like participating in interviews once I'm a med student.
This is what I expect much of my drive to look like, aside from the "going around Chicago" part. Very relaxing.
So that's on my plate for today and tomorrow. I'm scheduling this post so that it will go out while I'm driving to Wisconsin. So, if you're reading this within four hours of the timestamp, I'm probably on the road! The next couple weeks will be a breeze of relaxation and good times. All I'll be doing is working, hanging out with my wife Nicole and chilling with friends.

I also look forward to being able to post a bit more, as I've got a few ideas jotted down for some cool med school-based postage. I expect to also enjoy watching some episodes of House (just got Season 7) while using my new bluetooth speakers (hooray for early Christmas present money getting spent on audiophile-quality soundage!). I firmly believe in spending Christmas gift money on stuff you'd love to have but would never splurge on for yourself. For me, this falls right in that category...

We saved up so that my wife can get a massage (or two or four) once her exams are over. It will be a great way for her to detox, letting the stress just melt away. What will I do to relax, you ask? I will probably alternate between running, watching TV, and playing an assortment of Halo & Portal II (XBOX); Starfall & Contre Jour (iPad 2); and Dr. Mario (SNES; best video game of them all, by the way).

Break is going to be great.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grind Me Down Day

Today (yesterday? I guess it is Friday right now...) was a Grind Me Down Day.

1. I woke up a bit earlier than usual and reviewed for my oral lab exam.

2. I took my oral lab exam, where I think I performed well, giving that the bulk of my studying took place during the previous Number 1.

3. I rode my bike (it's electric though, so perhaps "drove" would be a better word?) a few miles to get a haircut in preparation for next week's interview.

4. I went to work, not knowing that I was about to spend the next 13 hours being the busiest that I've ever been in my current position. Basically, we tried switching inventory software systems this past weekend and the new system didn't take for some reason. Now, the old system doesn't work and neither does the new one, so they have pulled everyone (including the Human Resources Department) down to the distribution center to do every part of the process by hand. It was (and continues to be) a frenzied mess. When I asked one of the corporate IT guys how long he thought this would continue, he estimated that at most another two weeks. While others have it way worse than me (I think my boss put in about 120 hours in five days this week; she was literally there for 30 hours straight at one point, slept for 4 hours, then was back at it for another 20 straight. I think she almost died.), I don't really relish the idea of that many more 12-hour days doing this work. I'd rather wait for my residency for that to begin.

5. I rode through a pleasant blizzard of snow (our first real snowfall this year!) to arrive home at around 1:45am.

6. I then wrote a paper for Analytical Chemistry. I had been planning on writing it earlier this week, but that was before the 15+ hours of overtime that I've already worked.


7. I spent approximately 8 minutes writing this, when I should have just gone to bed. Why? Because someday, when I'm in the throes of my second year of residency, I want to be able to look back at the good ol' days when I thought I was busy/tired/stressed.

I can't wait for next Thursday to be here. By then my exams will be over, I will be taking a half day off of work, and I'll be on my way to a hotel and (hopefully) awesome interview experience in Wisconsin.

Until then, let's hope I don't get ground into nothingness.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Catalyst - My Personal Statement

I was reading one of my favorite blogs the other day, and while I don't necessarily agree with her on the probable origin of mitochondria, her most recent post reminded me of a story that I'd like to share. Coincidentally, this story of mine also served incredibly well as the introduction to my personal statement (PS). One of the main reasons that the AMCAS application includes a personal statement is to help you tell schools the reason why you want to become a physician - not just to gush about how you're so awesome. It's the applicant's chance to grab the adcom's attention - to allow one's vibrant color to stand out from the monochromatic mass that is the med school applicant pool.

The excerpt below is just the first two paragraphs of my personal statement; I'm still debating on what else (if anything) from my PS I will share on my blog. It tells about a single experience that helped spur me on to investigate a career in medicine, and my subsequent search for what that really meant for me. Obviously, that search resulted in a desire to become a medical doctor - one that will actually be realized, now that I've been accepted to a med school - which STILL feels weird to say, more than a month later. Anyway, here's the intro to my personal statement, and the experience which pushed me toward becoming a doctor. Note: I mention my experience teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, which I had mentioned in a different part of my AMCAS application. Basically, it consisted of three years of organizing and teaching a program meant to help adult members of the community learn to read, write, and speak English by allowing them to interact with English-speaking college students in a classroom setting. Now that the ESL reference will be clear to you, enjoy!

----

I knocked on the office door, pushing it open as I called out, "Anyone home?" Sharon sat with her back to the door, gray bun of hair bobbing in what appeared to be laughter. Chuckling, I asked, "What's so funny?" She gave a kick and as she spun around, I saw her movement for what it was. She was drenched in sweat from head to toe, every muscle in her fragile body contracting in an intense seizure. "N-n-need s-s-SUGAR," she stuttered through gritted teeth. I ran to the packed foyer and yelled, "Everyone listen! There's a woman in here having a seizure. I need anyone who has a drink with sugar in it to bring it here immediately!" Silence. "NOW!" I yelled. Three students responded. Back in the office, I cut the corner off of a juice box and held it up to Sharon's lips. I directed one of the students with a pop to have it ready when she finished the juice. I felt helpless, smoothing the sweaty hair from her face as she choked, continuing to seize. I later learned that she had absentmindedly given herself a second insulin injection after lunch, beginning to convulse before she realized her mistake. Throughout the situation I stayed calm while quickly and effectively directing others to do what was necessary.

My experience with Sharon spurred me to look into a career in a health care profession. I was intrigued by what I had seen in myself and wanted to gain more experience in a medical environment, so I pursued an internship shadowing medical interpreters at my local hospital. While observing the doctors, I found I could see myself in the role of a bilingual physician, speaking directly with and helping the patients. From my experience in ESL, I found I have a passion for serving the underserved. At the time, I thought one had to be premed in undergraduate studies to apply to medical school, so I gave up the idea until three years later. After getting married, I found out that my sister-in-law's husband had majored in German and Linguistics before attending medical school. He had gone back to school to fulfill his premed requirements, taken the MCAT and simply applied. After many conversations with my wife and long hours of thought and consideration, I decided to return to school to pursue a career as a physician.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crazy Season

This little guy looks just about how I feel at the moment.
Tired.
Some of you may have noticed, but I haven't been posting very frequently. The normal end-of-year craziness seems to be hopped up on Monster this year; both work and school seem to be busier than normal. A new software and hardware implementation at work means I've been working overtime almost every day for the past week. Normally, it's just a couple hours longer than normal, but I ended up coming in for six hours on Sunday night, then working a 13-hour shift yesterday from 1pm - 2am. YIKES. Add to that all the projects / papers / labs that are coming due this week before exams happen next week, and you've got one busy Justin. My interview at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is a week from Friday, which is sort of a light at the end of the tunnel; I'll be taking a vacation day (and a half!) from work, stay at a hotel, experience another medical school, and meet some great people. I can't wait!

I promise I will try to update a bit more once things calm down a bit. Till then, gifts and well-wishes in the form of coffee and other caffeinated beverages will be warmly received.

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